With work on Foxconn’s new factory underway in Racine County, Milwaukee officials are just beginning to discuss a question baked into the company’s promise of bringing thousands of jobs: How will people get to the project site?
On Wednesday, Milwaukee County Board Chairman Theo Lipscomb presented a resolution to the Milwaukee County Board’s Transportation, Public Works, and Transit Committee calling on county agencies to begin drawing up a plan to have a new bus line running between Milwaukee and Foxconn’s factory site in Mount Pleasant.
The resolution, which passed the committee 4-1, is ultimately meant to connect underemployed Milwaukee residents with the 13,000 jobs that Foxconn is expected to begin hiring for once its new factory opens its doors. Even before then, as many as 10,000 construction workers will be needed to build the plant.
Although many people are eager to see Milwaukee County residents benefit from the project, some members of the transit committee expressed concerns on Wednesday about the cost of a new transit route to Mount Pleasant. Estimates have pegged that cost at about $4 million.
Others, though, argued the county is losing valuable time.
With work on Foxconn’s massive plant already underway, Lipscomb said, now is the time for a plan to get Milwaukee workers to the project site and back. Unfortunately, Lipscomb said, formal discussions between Milwaukee and Racine officials and other interested parties have yet to begin in earnest.
“These parties need to be talking,” he said.
Lipscomb in March introduced a plan that would have established a new route to Foxconn using $4.5 million left over from Milwaukee and Racine County’s 2003 bailout of the extinct Midwest Airlines and its subsidiary, Skyway Airlines. That money can’t be tapped, though, without a deal first being struck among Milwaukee and Raciune counties, the state and quite possibly the federal government.
Even with that cash, Milwaukee and Racine counties would still have to kick in about 60 percent of the route’s annual operating expenses, according to a report prepared by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.
The report found the line’s operating cost would range from $562,000 to $1.7 million a year. Of that, the counties would have to commit to covering between $300,000 and $1 million. If riders in turn paid $4 to take buses on the route in either direction, their fares would generate between $225,000 and $675,000 a year.
The bus line could ultimately take about 1,300 workers to the factory, providing about 10 percent of the company’s projected workforce. The report found that, because Foxconns plans to operate its factory 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the new bus line would most likely have to run between two and six round trips every morning and evening.
Some county supervisors expressed skepticism about the proposal.
Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic, who voted against the resolution, said she was wary of committing any more money to the Foxconn deal, which she said many view as a “scam.”
“I’m going to have to think long and hard about using another penny,” Dimitrijevic said. “This is not a direct subsidy to Foxconn, but there is so much money involved here, it’s really hard to put anything else forward.”
Looking beyond a bus route, public officials have considered building a new Amtrak train route to the Foxconn site. Milwaukee Alderman Bob Baumann suggested in March that a train route might be a preferable alternative to a new bus line.
James Macon, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998, said a bus route from Milwaukee to the Foxconn site could quickly connect people with a supply of good jobs. A train route, in contrast, would most likely take years to build.
“Foxconn is here. People in Milwaukee County need jobs,” Macon said. “This is the taxpayers money, these are taxpayers that deserve to get the jobs.”Follow @natebeck9
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